Show business royalty meets show business royalty April 7 when the Grove Theater Center in Orange County, CA, begins previews for Swifty, a new play about Hollywood super-agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar, written and directed by Christopher Hart, the son of Moss Hart and Kitty Carlisle Hart.
With an extra boost from Tony Award- and Academy Award-winning producer David Brown ("Driving Miss Daisy," "Jaws"), who is co-producing the play, the nonprofit theater run by Kevin Cochran (artistic director) and Charles L. Johanson (executive director) in Garden Grove, CA., is suddenly basking in the limelight. Official opening is April 10. Performances continue to April 25.
The project is based on the late Lazar's autobiography, "Swifty," co written with Annette Tapert. Biographer Tapert is a co-producer with Brown. Lazar was the diminutive but bigger-than-life, high-powered agent who reigned in Hollywood from the studio era into the 1990s. He was known for his annual Oscar night party, attended by the Tinseltown elite.
The play dramatizes the transformation of Samuel Lazar, the son of immigrants living in a tenement in Manhattan's Lower East Side, into Irving Paul "Swifty" Lazar, whose clients and friends included Noel Coward, Cole Porter, Joan Collins and Madonna.
As the story goes, "Swifty" was given his name by Humphrey Bogart, for whom Lazar once completed three deals in one day. Lazar reportedly disliked the moniker. Legendary playwright-director Moss Hart was one of Lazar's first big clients, and son Christopher Hart grew up knowing "Uncle Irving." The younger Hart delivered one of the eulogies at Lazar's funeral.
The cast for the world premiere includes David Wohl ("Saving Private Ryan") as Swifty; Linda Gehringer as Annette Tapert; Scoot Powell as Alan Nevins, Sherriff, Sinatra; Gila Shapiro as Cindy, Stari Lazar, Wammo Girl, Mandy, Maria; Karen Lew as Alicia Kwan; Heather Lake as Rosie, Popkin, Lauren Bacall, Mrs. Kelly; David Allen Jones as Noel Coward, Doctor, Moss Hart, Samuel Lazar, Al Feshin, Captain, Jilly, Garson Kanin, Cole Porter; and Stephen Mo Hanan as Hemingway, Gen. Arnold, Milton Berle.
Jones is a Broadway veteran and GTC regular. Gehringer played Fontana on TV's "Evening Shade" and recently appeared as Janet Reno on Ally McBeal. Wohl played the captain who initially discovered the Ryan family deaths in "Saving Private Ryan." And Stephen Mo Hanan received a Tony nomination for his work in Cats.
This is the fourth year -- and fifth season -- for the nonprofit Grove Theater Center in Garden Grove, CA, one hour south of Los Angeles. The company operates in two spaces: The 178-seat Gem Theater and the 550 seat Festival Amphitheater. The organization presents its own subscription of plays (world premieres, Shakespeare and revivals) plus children’s shows, special events and bookings of visiting shows and artists.
Swifty will play the company's Gem Theater. Designers are Kevin Cochran (set), David Darwin (lighting) and Terry L. Nista (costume). Stage manager is Eric Johanson.
Presumably, if Swifty lands with audiences and critics, Brown will offer it a larger life beyond Southern California. His previous high-profile showbiz bio was Tru, based on Truman Capote's life, which snagged a 1990 Best Actor Tony Award for Robert Morse.
Swifty tickets are $18.50-$22.50. Grove Theater Center is located at 12852 Main Street at Acacia in Garden Grove, CA, four blocks north of the Euclid exit of the 22 Freeway. For information, call (714) 741 9555.
Following Swifty is another world premiere at Grove Theater Center: Cecilia Fannon's Thicker Than Water, May 5-23.
Fannon is a southern California playwright whose Red Corners, part of trio of related plays, was staged Jan. 5-31, 1999, in a world premiere production at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
The fortysomething Fannon, of Newport Beach, CA, told Playbill On-Line Feb. 3 her new three-character play spans 12 years and is about two women cousins who fall in love with the same man.
“I think my plays are always these hybrids,” she said. “It has moments of great levity, but the underpinnings are about making family -- if you don’t have it, you make it -- and about family loyalties, and loyalty general, and he price of love.”
Fannon’s “triptych” of related plays are Green Icebergs, Red Corners and the still-in-progress Holding the Pink.
A Queens, NY, native, Fannon became acquainted with the young Garden Grove company when she was writing a free-lance article about them. She later submitted Thicker Than Water to artistic director Cochran, who runs Garden Grove with executive director Johanson.
-- By Kenneth Jones